Welcome to Day 8 of 31 Days to Better Recordings.

Once you get all these amazing tracks recorded, you’ve got to mix ’em right?

Right.

Recently I was hosting a live Q&A session. One of the attendees asked, “What’s the point of mixing? Once you have everything recorded, you just blend them together and you’re done, right?”

While mixing IS a fairly simple concept (combining multiple tracks down to a single stereo track), it takes a lifetime to master. Mixes I’m doing today sound a lot better than mixes I did a few years ago. Three years from now my mixes will sound even better (I hope). 🙂

So, we can agree that mixing is important. If that’s true, then your studio monitors are equally as important, since you’re listening to everything through them.

You need to make sure you’re using decent studio monitors. Obviously. If you’re using $20 computer speakers from Walmart, you’re probably not hearing things very accurately.

That said, even if you only have “okay” studio monitors, there are things you can do to make them sound as good as possible.

1. Mopads

A while back I did a review of Auralex Mopads. Check out that review for complete details.

In short, mopads are monitor isolation pads. They’re designed to go between your monitors and the surface on which they’re resting. This helps to decouple the speakers from, for example, your desk.

When the speaker produces sound, those vibrations can travel from the speaker to the desk, and cause the desk to resonate at a particular frequency. This causes the low frequency response of the speaker to seem undefined, or perhaps even a little thin.

Placing a $40 set of Mopads under your monitors will create a night-and-day difference in how they sound. I know, I know. I was skeptical at first, too, but then I tried it. Great stuff. Suddenly the speakers had a deep low end and sounded very tight.

2. Acoustic Treatment

I’ve talked about acoustic treatment already (on Day 4), but it deserves another shout-out whenever talking about monitoring.

In addition to Mopads, proper acoustic treatment is a HUGE factor in how accurately your speakers (and your room) reproduce your recordings. Great speakers in an untreated room will only yield mediocre results.

Why? Because the room lies. It takes the sound that comes out of your speakers and changes it before it gets to your ears. Acoustic treatment helps minimize this.

Even if you can’t spend a lot on acoustic treatment, even a $100 box of foam will make a noticeable improvement.

Some recommended reading:

Day 8 Challenge

Today’s challenge is to carve out an hour of time in the next day or so to sit down in front of your monitors and listen to one of your favorite albums in its entirety. Take notes on what you hear. Make a mental note of what these songs sound like through your monitors.

Oftentimes, we get so caught up in trying to make our mixes sound great that we forget to remind ourselves what good mixes sound like through our monitors. Regularly listening to professionally-produced material will help combat this.

Report back here and leave a comment below. Let us know what you learned.

  • So, I guess I should go ahead and set my monitors up eh? Still need to get the audio interface setup first, and that corner by the entertainment center cleared, and …
    I remember spending a lot of time listening to some of my favorite albums to compare to a recording I had done with a band a few years ago. We recorded at the Sound Emporium in Nashville and had the mastered recordings mailed to us on DAT. The guitar player and myself would listen to the mastered version and then make suggestions to improve on what we thought was missing, etc. We finally settled on it, but it still has this character that could have only been alleviated with more “zeros” at the end of our recording budget. I.e. more time in the studio getting better tones, punchier drums, etc.

  • Ruben

    I am using a pair of M-audio. AV 40s at my studio. Of course my room isnt completely acoustically treated and I am on a low budget. I decided to use what I have to compensate.
    I had a 31 band Tapco by Mackie Eq laying around and I calibrated them with an SPL meter app I got on my iPhone. My mixes are sounding way better outside the studio now

  • Matt

    I am listening to all of my CD’s through my studio monitors. They are Alesis Monitor One speakers.
    They were very inexpensive at the time yet, they don’t really seem to hype any part of the sound. They may be a bit “sweet” at 2K but, not too bad. In any case, I’m used to them now. The main thing they lack is true bass reproduction. Sometimes, I go to my ATH-M40fs headphones to get an idea of what is going on in the bass.

  • I listen to everything through my HS50ms…I’m even after a little SM Pro M Patch monitor controller so I can hook up my Vinyl player to them!

    Its strange…a lot of HS50 users seem to say that whilst they’re great for mixing, the very mid-forward nature of their sound makes them undesirable for listening to music with – on the other hand, I love listening to music on them! I guess this really helps my mixes translate, I’m very used to how they sound.

    If I were to make an improvement, I’d treat my room and get some bass traps. I feel I can hear the high end and midrange very well with these monitors, but it does lack a lot of low end so I can’t check what the lower frequencies are doing very well.

    I have been tempted to get the HS80ms or some speakers with bigger drivers for that low end extension, but I’d be worried of losing the familiarity of the HS50s if I replaced them. If I had the cash though…two sets of monitors wouldn’t go amiss!

    • “If I were to make an improvement, I’d treat my room and get some bass traps.”

      Oops, meant to say I’d treat my room WITH some bass traps, and get a subwoofer!

    • Michael

      Where there is love, there can be no fear

    • Phil Harmon

      Vinnie,

      I love my HS50s. Granted, I also have the subwoofer. Bang for buck, they are hard to beat when set up properly.

  • First I have to write and record some good stuff before I can mix´em 😉 I´ve got Alesis M1 Active Mk2 monitors and they´re great! So when it´s mixing-time I will be prepared! … and of course, I have to do a lot of acoustic treatment in my room. As I write in another comment, since I have my new mic I realized how important good acoustic treatment is (and how bad my voice is… hahaha).
    Joe, I wish you, your wife and of course Owen all the best for your future!

  • Scott

    Most of my music listening is done through my studio monitors. I’m hoping that when it comes to mixing my next project, this will have helped out a lot.

  • Preshan

    I found that my room makes my monitors sound a bit muddy – a problem I didn’t have in my old house (so it’s definitely the room). I have M-Audio BX5a’s. Acoustic treatment will help, so that’s making its way to my priority list.

  • Arjun Ramesh

    Unfortunately, I do not have studio monitors. I have been mixing through a pair of Audio Technica ATH-M50 headphones. The mixes end up sounding pretty good. My budget has caused me to not be able to get a good pair of studio monitors. However, I will listen to some of my favorite albums through these and see how they sound.

  • Cush

    Alright, so I listened to The Artist In the Ambulance by Thrice because it’s my favorite Thrice record with good production. The Illusion of Safety kills, but the production isn’t really up to modern standards.

    So this is really the first time that I’ve listened to anything that I haven’t created on my KRK 6″s (so thank you for this post). I was really surprised at how less prominent the kick was than I thought it’d be. I usually, like most of us, listen to music in my car and I was expecting a lot more BOOM. The punch was there and it was definitely at a good level, but there wasn’t this big Thump that I was expecting.

    Also, the bass tone shone through a lot more as opposed to it just sort of blending in the with the low end like it does in my car. The tone is pretty gritty and nasty, especially during the heavy sections, and it really added another dimension to the music.

    So yeah, definitely a lot of things are different in the low end than I expected and thats usually where my problems arise. Now that I’ve orded MoPads, I need to treat the room and I’ll be in business.

    :Plug: Oh yeah, if you like heavier music…listen to The Artist In the Ambulance and The Illusion of Safety by Thrice. Great Music. :End Plug:

  • steve

    An accoustic treatement of my studio is overdue.

  • Cush

    “Second child, car repairs, house repairs, guitars, alcohol, shiny things to distract my wife from the aforementioned guitars and alcohol, etc.”

    Probably one of the more comical things I’ve read in awhile.

    I moved 2 months ago and I’m yet to do any treating of my room. And with that said, Instead of purchasing a bottle of bourbon this weekend…I’m going to buy some MoPads!

    Yay for financial responsibility!

  • Everett Meloy

    I will try these $40.00 is little to pay for sound inprovement.

  • Speakers stands can make the difference that Mopads did again. From flat on a desk to speaker stands, it’s night and day, add mopads or some kind of decoupling product and it’s even better. They’ll also allow you to optimize their position. Most people have their speakers too close together and too close to a wall.
    Every little thing makes a difference in the clarity and accuracy of your monitors.

  • rick

    I don’t know when I will have time to listen to an entire album, but this is a good idea. At the very least I plan to listen to some tracks that I’m trying to match the sound of.